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By Fred Wilson
[ See also Clouds ]

Everybody has their favorite air and site. Mine are mostly around Vernon Mountain in Beautiful British Columbia's Okanagan Valley because so many of my most memorable flights occurred there, especially the old west launch "The Chute" (now closed.)

Vernon Mountain is an outrageously good High Flight hill that can provide major league fun ridge mixed in with thermal soaring for intermediates and advanced. Straight ridge days are near ideal to introduce Novices to Soaring.

Any who.
One of my favorite memories was a days soaring at Vernon Mt. I scrached for quite some time in front of launch before getting away. While doing so, one "bored out of his skull" Redtail got a brainstorm of an idea to liven up his day. He slid right up behind be and cruised back and forth behind my trailing edge, giving me the complete once over. A real eye-ball to eye-ball conversation. "Cool" I thought, then regretfully watched him slip away. So my concentration meandered back onto the gorgious scenery... only to learn a big, big, lesson from one of the masters in the sky. "Don't take anything for granted Succa!"

There I be, caught virtually asleep at the wheel by this little putzbahh who sized me and lined me up and set me up big time. The little rat came at me at warp drive speed, right up the old kazoo, came screaming in right through my harness straps with his wings folded up, wrapped tight around him, just inches over my head. Then at 50 MPH and 5 feet in front of me, he spun around backwards, fully opened his wings in a full blown ass backwards stall, stared me straight in the face and gave me his loudest ""SCREEE!" He then flipped over and did the most amazing aerobtic dance I have ever seen. Celebrating one less living homo sapien, stuck halfway between whooping and celebrating and having a near fatal heart attack!

But my day wiht bird humor was not over yet!
I worked it down to Lavington (halfway to Lumby) when two monster big Golden Eagles came up at me in full on hunt mode, or so I thought, it being nesting season.. A wickedly fast climb of a good couple of thousand feet. "No escape from these living missiles" I thought. I know what it feels like to be an Iraqie fighter pilot with a Tomahawk missile locked on. (-; "Just be non-threatening and calmly exit their turf - old boy. They'll get the message."

Uh Uh. They all up and had a phone call from my redtail fiend / friend. Of that I have no doubt.

You see, one of those eagles swung out about 300 feet in front of me and a hundred feet above, slowly lining me up dead in his sights. Turned his head an turfed the biggest gob of spit you ever saw straight at me. "What th' ell is this BS?????" I yelled, winging over to safety....

Oh gawd... the damn thing's lining me up in his sights again! Sure enough he sidled right into target practice position and there I am again, half upside down in escape mode.

And again I get a world class demonstration of aerobatics as the two of them went to outrageous lenghts to celebrate my misery! So if you are flying between Lumby and Vernon, take a few minutes and hang out above the Lavington Bowl. My friends still roost there. Maybe they'll come up and say hi to you too. Enjoy!


But I digress...
Back to the old west launch "The Chute" and my story there.
There had been some real scares there, before a forest fire opened it up, notably Bill Relkov getting rotored to destruction by the trees (I exaggerate) and the primary bomb out LZ is diabolical. So it was with some trepidation that we once again reapproached flying at the site.

We had become complacent with High Flight hills which were developed during the old sled ride days and failed to recognize they weren’t soarable in most conditions. So we were slow to catch on to the fact that we had a truly extraordinary flying site right on our doorsteps.

Vernon pilots are blessed with a succession of tremendous flying sites, and all of them really close to home. Sies like Coopers in Lumby just crank in the spring. Mara and Kobau turn on June to Sept, while Bolleen can beat the stress out you when summer stability rolls around...
and all the airtime you have piled up means easy sites no longer test you ...and anyplace that is on will do in the fall.

But the best thing of all is the fact the Chute, Kobau and Mara can turn on in early spring - March (but the Chute ends about mid June when the center of the Okanagan Valley stabilizes out for the summer.) Why is this best? For two reasons.

  1. The hawks and eagles migrate through in droves and it is an event to be up there with them.
  2. And as every pilot knows, by early spring your nerves are screaming for one, just one, (be nice to me!) because I really need a fix THERMAL!

And this one has some good ones at that time of year when it can be really difficult to get in to snow bound thermal sites.

We began to fly the Chute in earnest in 1978 when for the first time the entire sport was trying to swallow their fears and really try to stay in those thermal things. (I still vividly recall Marshall Antonisak doing S turns way out in front of Vernon Mt. S launch in '76. The first thermal I had ever seen or heard of. The rest of us were fearfull for his safety. We could NOT figure out what was happening to him! Some of us couldn't even watch!)

For the first time we began to realize that momentous memories were happening; and thus our log books began to evolve from simple notations like "Smooth-soared" into detailed stories we could reminisce about for years to come.

But... This tale is really about scratching, although it is really only a very small part.
It begins for me in '79 where like many others I had gone for a flying holiday to one of our most treasured flying valleys, the Kooteneys. Home of the Awesome Mt. 7 at Golden. I needed guidance and initiation into thermalling and for me Andrew Barber Starkey was the answer. I was lucky. My first thermal was 500' per minute and a quarter mile in diameter. By the time I flew into the core my death grip had relaxed a little, so when my vario went screaming to 1200 up I said "OH! That's a core!" So I turned! And spent my day at cloud base in a snowstorm.

But way, and I do mean way down below me was Robin Peterson. He spent the day 500' above the deck pickin pine cones on a day when it was easy, really easy to get up. When I landed tired and happy I watched him for another hour. What a site. Burned into my memory for life.
... and he has the credit for opening up a whole new facet in my flying life. That is:
We do not have to get high to soar!
There is one heck of an exhillerating alternative... That is:
You can fly in "Zero Air" until they have to fly the pine box up you'll beburieed in.
Air does not have to be going up!
You just have to be in Air that is not going down.

Robin has since become famous for his scratchin'. And I have come to learn that it is by far and away my favorite form of flight.


Part 2 The Chute.
It was spring and I was really rusty.
Conditions were warm and sunny and just a little too north of west to be straight in. Miles Mopkins, Louis Kuyper and a few others stopped in for coffee and we did the usual. Pulled out the lawn chairs, put the feet up and waited for the cu's to start popping. At 1:00 sharp it was action time and within 10 minutes we were setting up. Luv Livin in OK Land! Milo as always scrambled off first, turned right to avoid the fools lift in front of the road, slipped over to the ravine and quickly climbed back out of site. In fact he flew to Cooper's Ridge (Lumby Town has officially renamed it "Thermal Rise" ) and back twice that day. The rest of us were not quite so lucky. While good ones ripped by the nature of the launch demands straight up streamers on all sides so it was catch as can.

I gave launch my best shot (you have to) and quickly caught the house in the ravine. But it was rough. Usually it quickly broadens out into smooth lift but not today. Peter Elms ground it into me to thermal Hang Gliders by flying one hand on the base tube and the one on the inside down tube and everything will come together. It helped a lot but this was still not my day. I was working hard when off in the distance over Deep Lake launch and Kalamalka Lake two pairs of Redtails began the long traverse and quickly converged on me and my thermal.

After one near midair (followed by a severe scolding), one of the Redtails, exasperated by my technique bailed out and dropped below me, leveled out and flew through the trash to the core and then quickly climbed out — screaming at me every time she caught my eye; very obviously in a better track. She (must have been a female: only a mother would take a fledgling like this under her wing) repeated this procedure over and over until I caught on. All the while the other three were desperatley dodging around my wing tips. When she was finally satisfied with my techinque, she gave me one final, leasurely fly-by, then joined her fruebds and off they left, back on their migratory way - leaving me to my own devices and a particularly wonderful memory of that moment... and a whole lot wiser.

I bounced up and down 4 grand all day but as the day wound down, so did I until I was just below our SW launch "Lover's Leap" when one faint thermal drifted up to me. And so, while two spectators watched, I slowly eased my way up. It was so calm and quiet we could converse as I worked the slope until I dropped away agin and again. I caught another one beneath the little ridge below them and it was so smooth and I was so confident of the air I turned in that little thermal - right around the lower branches of the only tree in that grassy little slope (the memory of the trunk of that tree spinning below me is still fresh in my mind as the day it happened) and then climbed to just above them. It was indescribably lush air. They were awed.

I dropped away again and this time slid right over to the power line where I caught my last "thermal" of the day. It was 50' per minute at best and barely enough to start a turn in. I pushed it out and held it there Oh so steady and used that little bubble to traverse the hill. It took me 20 minutes and I climbed not a whit. It slipped away and I teased some broken bits of glass off until I made my exit turn. I could have landed on that little bench. I was so low my hands were running through the tussles of grass 'till I turned and rolled out to land.

I do not think I shall ever again have such an all encompassing feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment as I did that day. It is a personal highlight that will remain as fresh in my memory as that day for the rest of my life. And I keep flying in hopes of more.

Canada offers many flying escapes for the adventurous pilot. From the year round flying on Vancouver Island to the Easter Meet near Kamloops through Spring at the West Coast to the September Labor Day Cache Creek/Clinton Team Meet nearly every weekend offers some sort of organized activity. For further information about flying and events in Canada, contact the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada.

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May 20 2015   Top Top